Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The film Anonymous

I am not going to be going to the cinema nor renting the DVD of this film Anonymous - starring Vanessa Redgrave. Much as I love Vanessa (who is a one-off) and enjoyed her flustering of Andrew Marr on Sunday morning telly, I can't abide the whole premise of this film i.e. that William Shakespeare did not write the plays. This time, the supposed author shoved into the limelight is the Earl of Oxford (or is it the Duke?). See? I care so little that I'm not even getting that right. Even his title sounds spurious.

So, what is the reason for Vanessa's - and presumably the script-writer's - conviction that Will S. was not the author. Why, because he was "just an actor". Well, excuse me for getting incensed on the behalf of actors - but what on earth has that to do with the price of fish (or cod-pieces!)

These sorts of arguments have been bandied about for years (centuries, even). That a seemingly "lowly" person from the sticks must be incapable of such brilliance. What arrant, if not arrogant nonsense. (Again excuse me while I clamber up on my hobby horse and gallop off across the Warwickshire countryside!)

They hold no water whatsoever. For as long as there has been natural selection there has been a brilliant member of the species who sticks their head above the rest because they have a special talent. In this case it was William Shakespeare. And, so what? The Warwickshire gene pool threw up a genius. Happens all the time, the whole world over. Stop messing with the story - even if it is a myth.

Does it matter?

This sort of rummaging around in a writer's things after they are dead reminds me of the horrible scene in Dickens A Christmas Carol when - after Ebeneezer's demise - a bunch of people crowd around like so many vultures:picking over his clothes and the meagre possessions he left behind.

This kind of "picking over" makes me feel queasy and that it's unnecessary. Why do people feel the need to do this?

I enjoy biography as much as the next person - ok not strictly true as I much prefer fiction which, to me, gets closer to "truths" - but this raking through the past to provide a kind of retro- ah-ha - so it wasn't you! Not so clever as you thought, eh? Serves what?

It's the same way I feel about Jane Austen and how her sister Cassandra did her a service in destroying her letters. Far better that Austen's work should stand alone - although, yes, I admire her hugely and wish I'd been around when she was alive on the planet. I think that the interest in Jane A. and others often stems from that sort of wish. A desire to claim her back - to pull her from the clutches of the past, from out of the river Styx (am now picturing The Mummy and that's not quite right - descending into purple prose here ...). Hopefully, though, you can follow my drift.

To me, the whole Shakespeare mallarkey smacks rather of point-scoring. Why can't we just leave and marvel at his brilliance. Does it really matter if it wasn't him? And why do some people appear to present these unmaskings of "the real Shakespeare" with lip-smacking relish - as if they hate the poor chap.

I felt much the same about the whole Carver affair. How some appeared to get pleasure from declaring "Ah yes, not so great now, are we Carver? We know now that it wasn't you, but your editor. Ah ha! We've found you out." Similarly I do rather wish that his "unsullied by Gish" pre-writings hadn't been published. What has that added? I felt as a fan that it rather took away.

Much as I've often wondered out loud just how culpable Ted Hughes might have been in Sylvia Plath's death at least he kept their private lives private and didn't go through her waste paper bin to publish earlier drafts ...

A writer friend who has gone on to be famous and highly successful once told me she'd had written into her will that she wanted all her old diaries destroyed after she was dead. (She uses them now for material - of course). She said she didn't want people poking about in her teen thoughts/ dreams/ stupid and rubbish scribbles. And I think she was right.

In this age when all remains on the world wide web for ever (or at least until the power runs out and the lights do finally go off!) it gives one pause for thought. How on earth can we manage what is left behind now? Will collaborations/ re-writes/ emails, etc. etc. might be dragged out to show - ah ha! - that we didn't do it all alone. That each and every one isn't after all (to paraphrase Hugh Grant's character in About A Boy) an island! (Yes, I know that if he were he wanted to be Ibiza!)

So. No. I shan't be going to see the film. Nor shall I be reading any exposes on writers/ artists lives and what they've left behind. Not if it might leave a bad taste. I much prefer an artist's work to stand alone. To delve into the dead's psyche feels rather too much like grave robbing to me.

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